In the paper Korean in Contact with Chinese (2006) by Ho-Min Sohn, it states

While Chinese characters in Japanese are read with both Sino-Japanese pronunciation and the pronunciation of the corresponding native words, thereby contributing to the maintenance of the native words, Chinese characters in Korean are only read in Sino-Korean pronunciation, which has contributed to the disuse of native words.

This is really more of a question about Japanese, but asking it here because it's from a paper about Korean and I know very little about Japanese. What does the author mean when he says that Japanese is "read with both Sino-Japanese pronunciation and the pronunciation of the corresponding native words"? Is he saying that the words have two pronunciations? Does Japanese use the Chinese characters to also represent their native words?

  • Just to ask the obvious question... if this really is more of a question about Japanese, would it be better asked on japanese.stackexchange.com? I'd hope users there would be able to pitch an answer to someone with limited Japanese knowledge... Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 16:56
  • @topomorto I considered that, and it might very well be the best place, but I decided to ask it here because I'm looking for an answer in the context that a Korean learner would understand. There is a good amount of cross-study between these two languages, so there's a good chance people here would know too and could provide that context. I'm happy to move it if people feel otherwise. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 22:22

2 Answers 2


In “Chinese character cultural sphere”, it used to be very universal to read a same character in different ways. In past, most of Chinese character cultural languages had both 'reading by traditional Chinese pronunciation' and 'reading by meaning'. It is pretty natural; anyway Kanji/Hanja is a character system for Chinese language, not for Korean and Japanese language.

Until the era of Chosun dynasty, it is estimated that Koreans were using 'reading by meaning' was still remained. But it started to disappear from a hundred year ago. If there are numerous ways to read a same character, it is confusing to learn, isn't it. So, now Japan is the only country which still uses Kunyomi(reading by meaning).

Here's an article about the difference between Kunyomi and Onyomi in Japanese language. (https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/onyomi-kunyomi-kanji/)

  • Thanks for the link; that was really helpful. Just to make sure I understand, are you saying that Koreans used pronounce something like 木 as 나무 before the Chosun dynasty but (if it was like Japanese) a compound like 木曜日 as 목요일, but then it eventually changed to just pronounce as 목 everywhere? I'm curious if this phenomenon is because 한글 was also introduced around this time so Koreans now had a way of just writing 나무 if they wanted the native word instead of writing it as 木. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 14:31
  • 1
    Yes you are right. Long time ago, Koreans read 木 as not only 목 but also 나무. It is not sure when that rule is disappeared perfectly, but in modern Korean society, the pure Korean word and Sino-Korean words are divided at all.
    – jungyh0218
    Commented Jun 23, 2017 at 4:48
  • Of course, the 음훈 eumhun system is still used in modern (S) Korea to refer to hanja. E.g. 눈 목 vs 나무 목.
    – Michaelyus
    Commented Jul 10, 2017 at 17:01
  • 음훈 system is used in Korea but it is used as a reference to make it easy to understand the meaning of a Character easily while learning Chines character system. While reading a Sino-Korean word, only 음독(reading by pronunciation) is used.
    – jungyh0218
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 8:34

read with both Sino-Japanese pronunciation and the pronunciation of the corresponding native words

Here's example.

Chinese 日(Day) speaks Korean "일(il)" only. 日曜日 speaks "일요일(il-yo-il)".

In Japanese, 日 speaks "ひ(hi)" But (Sunday) speaks "にちよう(ni-chi-yo-u-bi)".

休日(holiday) - きゅうじつ(ki-yu-u-ji-tsu)

and many words are different ways speaking...

Because while Korean speaks "read out" only, Japanese speaks both "read out" and "meaning".

So, Beginners, it's hard to know how to speak Chinese-included Japanese word.

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